Rochester charter school uses strong community partnerships – and an Olympian – to make summer learning fun

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There are tons of great charter schools in New York and Connecticut going above and beyond for their students. This means staving off the summer slide, either with an extended year or a robust program to keep their students engaged in these summer months. Discovery Charter School in Rochester made summer learning fun thanks to two great programs.

What do Olympians, Rochester grad students, and the local library all have in common?  All three were an integral part of Discovery Charter School’s summer learning program. With different activities focusing on literacy, reading, physical activity and developing social skills, a group of the K-6 school’s students got to keep the summer slide at bay in exciting ways.

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The program, DCS Grows, is coordinated by Nikki Johnson of EnCompass Resources, an academic support organization. Johnson also works in DCS as a speech therapist during the school year. Being able to coordinate the program with the school staff and see firsthand the progress students are making has helped to shape how the programming works, and ensure it is a continuing success. In fact, they use data to make sure kids are learning and growing.

“I work with the school’s ELA curriculum person as we’re putting the program together for the summer,” Johnson said. “We start this camp with a lot of information on the kids, and we can track how they are progressing. Data from last year showed students from DCS Grows had the least amount of summer slide.”

Small class sizes allow students to have more individualized attention and get more engaged. With around 80 DCS students in the program, there are no more than 15 children to a classroom and two teachers available to work with them. There are two reading specialists available to help students as well. The program is focused on developing ELA skills, and students are given an inquiry topic to work on for the month-long program.

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This year’s topic was the Olympics, and students went on inquiry-based field trips that focused on sport. A group of students went to a gym to see how athletes train; another went to a volleyball clinic. There were trips to a baseball game and an equestrian center. Another highlight: the children even got a fencing demonstration from 2000 Olympian Iris Zimmerman.

Students also had physical education and swimming instruction. The program received generous donations of swimsuits and towels for the students. DCS grows gives students unique opportunities thanks having great partnerships.

“The opportunities for the students in the community partnerships and the experiences are incomparable to anything I’ve been a part of. It is amazing,” said Joy LaDue, Extended Learning Coordinator with EnCompass.

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Graduate students at Nazareth College have helped teach the DCS students, a dance instructor came for a “creative movement” session, the students met a robotics professor, and the students also got to see fossils and learn about prehistoric animals. This is also the second summer Nazareth College School of Education has partnered with Discovery and EnCompass to make classrooms and facilities available for the program at no cost.

Johnson said, “We put the students in groups that focus on social skills and social-emotional learning. We want them to learn about giving back to their community, and build stronger relationships with their classmates and the DCS staff.”

In addition to the students who were in the DCS Grows program, 20 students took part in DCS Reads – a program that gave students the chance to meet with a DCS teacher at local libraries and improve their reading skills.

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Once a week, a small group of students would meet with a teacher at a local library. The students were given literacy kits and would meet to discuss what they had been reading and show the progress they were making. Students also used literacy labs at the libraries and participated in activities to help improve their literacy.

Discovery’s Trish Conley coordinated the program, and spoke about how crucial it was to keeping the children engaged during the summer downtime.

Conley said, “This is a great way to keep students engaged in their learning throughout the summer. It really keeps them motivated and keeps their brains active. When we did this last year, we saw the students who took part continued their reading and had less of a gap in the fall.”

Programs like these go a long way in not only making sure the students don’t regress, but in helping set them up for future success by developing critical skills. When schools like Discovery work overtime for their students, the benefits are undeniable.

Joe was the Deputy Communications Director for New York for the Northeast Charter Schools Network.
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Rochester charter school uses strong community partnerships – and an Olympian – to make summer learning fun
Rochester charter school uses strong community partnerships – and an Olympian – to make summer learning fun
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